Unity In Times of DisagreementAs we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome today we have to remember where we have been so far in our study. If you will remember, our last few studies have focused on our current situation, we are living life under the wrath of God. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all of the godlessness and wickedness of people. Paul says that God is justified in pouring out His wrath because He has given us overwhelming evidence of His awesome power and divine nature. All of the evidence that God has provided for us, so that we might realize that there is a God who is both powerful beyond our wildest imagination, as well as divine, it has been for naught because we have suppressed the truth that God has revealed to us. The evidence that He has provided for us is seen in what God has made. Look around you. Everything you can see is a gift from God’s hand. Look in the mirror, you may not like what you see, but you have to admit that you didn’t make yourself. Scripture says that God knit you together in your mother’s womb. He has given you life and He has sustained your life every moment that you have lived.

In the Scripture that we will study today we will see some of the consequences for the choice we have made to suppress the truth about God. Paul says that we are living in an altered state of consciousness; he says that our thinking has become skewed, darkened, and empty, because we have not glorified God or given Him thanks. Let’s read our Scripture together and then we will look at the changes that humanity has experienced because of the choices we have made.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23 NIV)

Many today say that they don’t believe in God, they don’t see what Paul says has been made plain to us, but God will not accept that answer. Paul says in verse 21, “For although they knew God…” All of us know deep in our heart that God exists. We may reject Him, we may pretend that He doesn’t exist so that we can continue to live however we want to live, but those are not excuses for our denial of the obvious. Paul lists some things that have come about because of our choice to live as though God does not exist. Paul says that,
* Our thinking has become futile.
* Our foolish hearts have become darkened.
* We have claimed to be wise when in reality we have become absolute fools.
* We have exchanged the glory of God for cheap imitations.

I want us to focus on these four truths that are listed in our Scripture for today. Let’s begin by taking a look at verse 21 and examining what Paul means when he says that our “thinking has become futile.” The word that Paul uses for “futile,” is the Greek word, “???????” (mataioo), and it means, “empty, worthless, deceptive, or pointless.” Paul uses the word in 1 Corinthians 3:19-20 when he writes about the wisdom of the world. Read along with me.

19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (1 Corinthians 3:19-20 NIV)

You have to ask the question, “Why has this happened to our thinking? How has this happened to our thinking?” In our society today we are told by those who supposedly are in the know, that everything negative that is taking place is due to our diet, our environment, or some other cause outside of us that is having a negative affect on us. Paul doesn’t attribute the diminishing of our thought processes to environment or diet or government policies. Paul says that our thinking has become worthless because of two causes: First, we have refused to glorify God. Second, we have refused to give God thanks. I want to take a minute to examine these two actions that God desires from us.

First, Paul says that we have refused to glorify God. The Greek word that Paul uses for “glorify, is “?????? (doxazo), and it means, “to think, to have an opinion, to praise, magnify, honor, and to render glory and excellence.” The word appears 62 times in the Greek New Testament.

To “give God the glory” is an exhortation that is found throughout God’s Word. In The Old Testament we find the invitation offered again and again. All of creation invites us to join in the chorus and give God the glory for who He is and for what He has done. In Psalm 19:1 we hear the invitation as the heavens declare the glory of God. David wrote,

1 For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1 NIV)

In Psalm 145:3-5 we see that the invitation to glorify God is passed from one generation to another. My generation is to declare God’s greatness and majesty to those who are coming after me. Read along with me.

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. 4 One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. 5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. (Psalm 145:3-5 NIV)

Glorifying God consists of more than mere words. In the New Testament we see that glorifying God has to do with all of life, not just our speech, but also our entire life. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:14-16,

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV)

Why are we to let our light shine before the people of this world? So that we can win the Nobel Peace Prize or have people pat us on the back? No way. We are to let our light shine before the people of this world so that they will praise and glorify God. Everything we do in life is to be done with intent, for the purpose of bringing glory to God. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31,

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)

Let me ask you, is there any more natural response to what God has done for us than to freely and enthusiastically give Him all of the glory? If you were drowning, going down for the last time, and you felt someone reach beneath the waters and pull you up to the surface to lift you from your watery grave, would you not praise them? Would you not tell everyone you know about the one who saved your life? Of course you would. Why then would you not tell everyone you know about the One who made you, the One who has given you life and breath and strength, and the One who has provided an escape for you from eternal death and separation from God? Why would we not tell everyone? Why would we not live our lives in such a way so as to bring glory to His name? The answer is quite simple, “our thinking has become worthless.”

There is a second reason as to why our thinking has become futile or empty and that is because we have refused to give God thanks. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written,

Man does not thank God for his mercy, for his goodness, for his dealings with us in providence. We take the sunshine for granted; we are annoyed if we do not get it. We take the rain for granted. How often do we thank God for all these gifts and blessings!…God is “the giver of every good and perfect gift;” he is “the Father of mercies.” Yet people go through the whole of their lives in this world and they never thank him; they ignore him completely. That is how they show their attitude toward God. In this way they suppress the truth that has been revealed concerning him. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 1, The Gospel of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), p.382.)

We are ungrateful people. We act as if God owes us the bountiful blessings that we enjoy each and every day and we become angry and agitated when anything goes wrong in our lives. We are our mother’s and father’s children aren’t we? We are like those who have gone before us.

There should have been nobody on the face of the planet who was more grateful for God’s grace and mercy than the slaves who left Egypt. After 400 years of slavery God miraculously and marvelously delivered them and led them through the desert to a land of their own.

God guided them every step of the way: during the daytime God guided them by a cloud and as night fell He led them by a pillar of fire. There would be no getting lost because their Guide was reliable. If that were not enough, God provided food for them to eat and water for them to drink. They didn’t have to watch for the next roadside McDonald’s– God was their Provider. Yet, this was not enough. They complained about everything. They were barely out of Egypt when all of the complaining and grumbling began. Take a look at Exodus 14:11-12.

11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12 NIV)

Had they already forgotten how bad things were in Egypt? Had they forgotten what it was like to work in the mud pits day-in and day-out, from sunrise to sunset, making bricks for Pharaoh’s building projects? Had they forgotten the oppression, the abuse, the hopelessness? Had they already forgotten the miracle God had performed in delivering them from Pharaoh’s iron grip? Yes, they had.

I told you that God provided food and water for them. How would you like to be responsible for providing food and water for somewhere around two million folks? Jesus fed 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish, but He didn’t do it day after day for those who were ungrateful. The Hebrew slaves grew tired of eating manna, the bread from heaven provided by God, and they began to fuss. In Numbers 11:4-6 we read,

4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost– also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6 NIV)

“Manna, manna, manna! All we ever see is this manna. We’ve been as creative as the crew from “Chopped” with this stuff. We’ve used all of Martha Stewart’s recipes. We’ve made manicotti, manna burgers, mananna pudding–we are sick of manna!” What would they have eaten if it were not for the Lord’s provision? They would have starved! I wish they would have had Paul’s letter to the folks in Thessalonica. Paul wrote,

16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)

We are to give thanks in all circumstances. Whether we are healthy or sick, we are to give thanks. Whether we are prospering or living in poverty, we are to give thanks. Whether the sun is shining or the storms are raging, we are to give thanks. Whether we feel like it or not, we are to give thanks. We are to be thank-filled people. This is what we should do, but we do not have to give God thanks for all that He has done and is doing even now for us. We can cross our arms and refuse to give Him thanks, but we do that at our own peril. If we choose to refuse to give Him thanks, if we choose to refuse to glorify His name, then our thinking will become futile, worthless.

Now, let’s turn to the second truth that Paul makes known to us–our foolish hearts have become darkened. This too is a result of our refusing to glorify God or give Him thanks. There is an interesting word that will shed great light on our understanding if we will have ears to hear. The word Paul uses for “foolish” is the Greek word, “????????” (asunetos) and the word means, “unintelligent, without understanding, senseless, or stupid.” This word is what is called an “alpha privative.” In the Greek language, if you put an “a” or “alpha” in front of a word then it changes it’s meaning to the opposite. Let me give you an example. In Acts 13:7 we read that Sergius Paulus was an “intelligent man” who sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. Sergius Paulus was “sunetos,” he was “intelligent, he had understanding, he was wise.”

In our Scripture, in Romans 1, we are told that if we refuse to glorify God and give Him thanks then our hearts will become “asunetos,” they will become unintelligent, foolish, and have no understanding of what it truly important in life. Paul uses the word in Titus 3:3-5.

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:3-5 NIV)

Paul says that we too were once foolish and living like those who refuse to glorify God with their life and give Him thanks. All of us are born living this kind of life. We are born sinners, but Paul says that even though we use to live this way we no longer live this way. Why? What happened? Did you have good “home training” to straighten you out? Nope. That’s not what Paul attributes the change to. Did you go to a good school, gain an Ivy League education, or read some good books that showed you the error of your ways? Nope. Paul says, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

Some of us here this morning have foolish hearts. You may have a genius I.Q., but you have a foolish heart. You may be a huge success and have more money than Bill Gates, but you have a foolish heart. Your priorities are all messed up. You plan your calendar around fun instead of faith. You give your time to trivial things, you spend your money on trinkets and toys, and you are spending your life building your own private kingdom. Foolishness, utter foolishness.

You can’t see what is truly important because the lights have gone out; you are groping about in the dark. You may not see it that way; you don’t know the lights have gone out because that is all you’ve ever known. You may not see it that way because you are a success, you’ve reached the top of your field, society tells you that you’ve made it–you are somebody. Compared to who? Compared to other men or women or compared to the man or woman God has created you to be?

God’s Word says that if we are not living our life to bring glory to God and if we are not overflowing with gratitude for God’s mighty acts then we are merely spinning our wheels. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and gave them good counsel, counsel that we need to hear today.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. (Ephesians 4:17-19 NIV)

The people of the world engage in every indulgence to try and fill their emptiness, but they refuse to turn to the One who can truly fill them to overflowing. I don’t have any problem understanding why the people of the world do this, but I see a troubling thing happening in the Church in America today. I see people who profess to be followers of Jesus engaging in the same activities as the folks in the world and it doesn’t trouble their soul in the least. They do whatever they want because, they say, God will forgive them. Good luck! When God reveals to us the hardness of our hearts, the darkness of our hearts, and He gives us a new heart, it should repulse us to the degree that we never want to harbor that dark, hard heart again. If we have tasted of the sweetness of our Savior then we should never again want to drink the cheap imitations this world has to offer.

Let’s move on to our third truth. Paul says in verse 22, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Paul says they “claimed to be wise.” We can make all kinds of claims, but the reality is that they became, or were made, fools. There is a sermon in this one phrase, but we don’t have time for that now so I will try and highlight a couple of important points for us. The Greek word Paul uses for “wise” is the same word that we get our words, “philosophy” or “sophistication” from. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,

Instead of accepting revelation they became philosophers. And what is a philosopher? A philosopher is a man who claims that he starts by being skeptical about everything, that he is an agnostic. “I am going to have the data,” he says, “and then I am going to apply my mind to it. I am going to reason it out and I am going to work it out.” (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 1, The Gospel of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), p. 377)

So we pretend that we have all of the answers. We claim to be wise. We write books on how to do this and do that. We give advice to others like we know what we are talking about when in actuality we are as clueless and powerless as a newborn baby over much of life.

All of this happens apart from God. When we turn our faces away from God then our thinking becomes foolish. The word that Paul uses for “foolish” is the Greek word, “???????” (moraino), and the word means, “fool or dull.” James Montgomery Boice says,

What kind of fools? Well, in the Greek language, fool, does not mean merely to be guilty of intellectual folly, though it includes this error, but to be guilty of moral folly or wickedness as well. That is why in the Bible it is so often connected with a denial of the existence of God, as in Psalm 14:1 (The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”) (Boice, James Montgomery, Romans: Volume 1, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, pg. 172).

We claim to be wise apart from God, and still possess morality. We claim to be wise apart from God, and still possess truth. We make all kinds of claims and yet in actuality we are fools if we try to live this life apart from God.

The last truth that I want us to take a look at this morning is this: We have exchanged the glory of God for cheap imitations. Paul says that even though we claim to be wise, we have become fools.

23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:23 NIV)

Let me let you in on a little secret. There is an innate drive in all people to worship. I say, “innate,” in that it is not something you have created, that desire to worship has been put in you by God. He desires that you and I worship Him, but if we choose to turn away and deny the obvious then we are still going to worship some thing or someone. The ancient Israelites worshipped a golden calf. Nebuchadnezzar worshipped the works of his hands as he looked over the kingdom of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar said,

30 “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30 NIV)

There is worship going on all around our society and around the world today. Hindu’s around the world bow and pay homage to some 330 million different deities. In Sri Lanka countless Buddhists bow in a temple that houses a tooth reported to belong to Gautama Buddha. The tooth is positioned in a golden lotus blossom surrounded with rubies and enshrined in a Temple.

On August 16-17, 1987 there were groups of people who gathered at sacred sites and “mystical” places all over the world to usher in a new era. The Harmonic Convergence was supposed to be a global awakening to love and unity through divine transformation. One of the mystical sites in America where people gathered was Mount Shasta in California. 5,000 people gathered to meditate, chant, and call upon the cosmos to bring about peace, love, and unity. The outcome wasn’t too successful so they planned “Harmonic Convergence 2” on July 25-27, 1997. These folks were worshipping Mother Earth, Gaia, as some call her and pooling their collective positive energy to bring about change. They got back together in 2012, but the outcome of their gathering was the same as the two prior meetings–there’s still no peace and unity, but there’s an abundance of foolishness.

If you think those people are strange then listen to this: on most any night you can go to some venue where pop culture deities like Kanye West, Toby Keith, Justin Bieber, or some other larger-than-life performer are doing their thing. Some have waited for weeks to see Kanye in person. They’ve listened to his new album, but man this is “live!” The music begins bumping and everyone stands to their feet. Kanye comes out and people shout at the top of their lungs, they lift their hands and wave them in the air, and their hearts pump with the music. If that isn’t worship then please explain to me what is?

We are supposed to use our voices to shout, to proclaim His glory and majesty, not Kanye’s or any other person’s. We are supposed to lift our hands in surrender and praise, but not to any person. I told you there is an innate drive inside of us to worship. Who will you worship? You are going to worship, but you’ve got to make up your mind who you are going to worship.

Some here may not be music fans, you may not call the Ford Center your home church, maybe you worship in another venue. T. Boone Pickens Stadium? Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium? Maybe? Not all who gather in those place are worshippers, but if you’ve ever been to a ballgame then you know that for some they have exchanged what they should be doing on Sunday morning for what they choose to do on Saturday afternoon.

We were born to worship. Worship is a good thing as long as it is offered to the One who deserves our worship. Worship expressed in any other way, to any lesser Being, is misdirected worship and evidence of our darkened, foolish hearts and thinking.

How about you this morning? As you’ve listened to God’s Word and examined what the Lord is saying to us this morning do you hear His voice? Is the Lord calling you from darkness into His glorious light? I hope that this morning you will realize that there is no light, no understanding, no wisdom, and no knowledge available to you and me unless the Lord shines His glorious light into our hearts and minds. When Jesus comes into our hearts He turns the lights on we can finally see. Won’t you accept Him into your heart this morning?

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
April 30, 2013

Empty Thoughts and Darkened Hearts
Romans 1:21-23
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